Walgreens ongoing celebration of Black History Month in February included a panel discussion last week at Walgreens Boots Alliance headquarters in Deerfield, Ill., featuring several African-American leaders. Here are some excerpts of the wisdom they shared during that discussion – and separately with Walgreens News – on diversity, overcoming career obstacles and being a strong leader.

“It’s important for me to help people of color see themselves in leadership roles, and to inspire everyone to live up to their potential. Often times, I’m in spaces with senior leadership, so I use those opportunities to bring the voices of those who are not in the room. I take every moment to help others at Walgreens understand the value of bringing a diverse perspective and how that can really drive goals and get you what you want to accomplish. And I find leaders around me who can help push that diversity of thought.”
Pierre Rouse, manager, business planning and GNFR, Walgreens
"You’ll often hear someone described as a leader if they stand with a pose and they give commands and they say ‘I’ a lot. You might say someone who does that is born with that kind of personality. But you have to be careful and say, ‘Maybe that’s not actual leadership.’ Maybe leadership is how you use the skills you were born with or the ones you picked up along the way to get the best out of people, to make the best of your circumstance. I actively work on my leadership. I work on my listening. I work on identifying the skill sets that people have and putting them together in a way that makes magic. And that’s the best definition of leadership, because then everybody can do it. It doesn’t have to be that because I grew up female and brown, I can’t be the leader. I use that as my asset – to combine what I have and what other people have to create something that didn’t exist before I came in the room.”
Renee Smith, head of portfolio management, WBA
“I grew up in Canada and worked at a grocery store up there. Every day, regardless of the shift, I took a lot of pride in how I bagged groceries, and being able to have customers feel good about the experience – being pleasant, being helpful. And the experience continues to inform my career today. Be excellent, no matter what the task is. Even if it’s small, it’s still about how you show up and how you do that job. You don’t have to perfect, but every moment is an opportunity to show what you can do and to be excellent.
“Representation matters. Here at Walgreens, I’m part of a chorus of voices that are committed to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. That requires hard work from all of us, in our various roles. We need to look around our meetings, in our board rooms, and ask ourselves if we are walking the walk. And diversity is not just about gender or about racial diversity, but diversity of life experiences. Most of us are not just one thing, and when we feel that we can bring forward all the different ways we look at the world, we all win.”
Pamela Morris, senior manager, CSR communications, WBA
“The responsibility of a leader is to develop others so that, once the time is right, they can be put in a role or position to lead as well. I have this quote attributed to Maya Angelou that’s always in the back of my head – ‘People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’ One, it’s about showing that you care and having passion and compassion for individuals’ growth. Two, it’s about sharing with them experiences and challenges that you had, where you may have had a misstep, to make sure they don’t have that same misstep. And three is giving constant feedback. I’m asking my team all the time, ‘How do you feel? How am I doing? What are things that you want me to change?’ I want to challenge them to think differently, and to start providing feedback in the same way.”
Al Carter, divisional vice president, pharmacy operations and professional affairs, Walgreens
“Where I’m from, in south Louisiana, you were supposed to be seen and not heard and let your work speak for you. You didn’t go around telling people how great you are. But I found later in my career that just being good at what you do isn’t good enough. I had to change my mindset from letting my work speak for me to speaking to my work, which was very uncomfortable at first. If you grew up humble and you have a value set around being humble, it’s very difficult to break out of that. But in the roles we have, you have to be able to speak to your work and articulate how you did it. Don’t let your belief system get in your way. How do you not let the things that you’ve experienced in life, whether it’s nature or nurture, get in your way and become a blocker? Which things do you want to bring with you, and which things do you want to leave back?”
Charles Bernard, group vice president, asset protection and comprehensive loss, Walgreens